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Joe's Stone Crab losing its edge?

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I've eaten stone crabs hundreds of times here in Florida and I've been to Joe's over a dozen times, but I've never been so disappointed with the quality of the crab as I was the other night. I ordered large claws because they are generally the safest bet for properly cooked, tender, fresh meat of the highest quality. The texture and flavor indicated to me that they had been previously frozen, possibly by accident or perhaps on purpose as a holdover from a previous day. There is a chance that what I took as an indication of freezing was just due to their being kept too long and left in liquid, but I don't think so. The meat had no snap, it wasn't crisp, it was limp and almost flavorless. Instead of the sweet taste of fresh crab i could have been eating something from the frozen food section of the local supermarket. Have any of you had similar experiences lately?

BTW, the hash browns were the best part of the meal.

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Joe's Stone Crab
11 Washington Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33139

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  1. All I can say is that I've eaten there three times this season - - and it was - as always - superb.

    EMac
    Ft. Pierce, FL

    1. Hmm, interesting. I also had a disappointing experience with the stone crab at Joe's recently, but just assumed it was because they were nearing the end of the season.

      Accompanying photos here: http://www.girleatscity.com/2011/05/j...

      I'm not sure why, exactly, we thought Joe's Crab would be a informal crab shack. On a recent evening, just as the sun was setting, we showed up at this South Beach institution after a fast bike ride, with wind-whipped hair, sandy feet, me in a sundress and my husband in shorts -- only to find ourselves at a restaurant with valet parking and a beautiful wooden bar that would be at home in any downtown Manhattan steakhouse. After a bit of debate (noting with dismay a gentleman in a bowtie escorting his wife into the restaurant on his arm), we decided to put our names on the wait list anyway. A few open glares from the maitre d'hotel and a well-mixed old fashioned later, we sat down to a meal that my husband said was the best he'd had in Miami, yet.

      Since this was our first time at Joe's, we went for the standard combos. I had the East and West Combo, which included two king crab legs and four "select" (medium sized, higher quality) stone crab legs. Both of our orders came with a mustard dipping sauce, clarified butter and lemon wedges, and all the crab legs were nicely pre-cracked so all you had to do was pull the meat out of the shell.

      I loved the Alaskan king crab legs on my plate, which were so sweet and firm, they only needed a little spritz of lemon and nothing else. The local stone crabs were disappointing, however, perhaps because they are nearing the end of their season. Stone crab legs were served far too cold, almost frozen, and not very flavorful at all -- a bit waterlogged, actually. They did, however, make great vehicles for the thick, gloppy mustard sauce and clarified butter.

      My husband ordered the Joe's Special Combo, which included four "select" stone crab legs, a side of creamed spinach, hashbrowns, coleslaw, and a slice of key lime pie. We traded bites of stone crab legs after he raved about his. Interestingly, though we supposedly had the same kind of crab leg, his were not bad: They were sweeter and had more flavor, though still not as much as the king crab. The creamed spinach was not overly rich and creamy, which was nice, but it was far too heavy on the nutmeg. The hockey puck of a hash brown reminded me of Sarge's latkes in NYC, with a well developed crust and soft innards. The crust was a bit rubbery by the time I tried it, but I have a hard time not loving any sort of fried potato concoction.

      The coleslaw was... interesting. It consisted of a pile of cabbage, which had been tossed with what tasted to me like cider vinegar and copious amounts of sugar, topped with a glop of mayonnaise and another glop of relish. My husband said he liked it. I frankly found the overly sweet cabbage repulsive. The two little tomato slice ears were juicy and ripe.

      Our lovely server, William-from-Chicago, split my husband's key lime pie slice for us, since he'd noticed us sharing our food, earlier. It was a well-made, but fairly standard pie with a little bit of key lime pulp in the thick pie filling, with a graham cracker crust.

      A note on service: Our bartender (a very nice, friendly man who wore Buddy Holly glasses) and William, our friendly, helpful and patient server, were wonderful to interact with. However, we were really put off by the reservationist and a man I assume was the manager, who prowled the restaurant in a gray suit. These two exuded more surliness than I've ever encountered in a restaurant. (No one at Le Bernardin, Per Se or Eleven Madison Park would ever dream of treating customers this way, even one suspected of walking the line in terms of dress code.) I would've considered going back for the food, alone, since my husband so enjoyed his meal. But I'm unlikely to return, in light of the extremely unpleasant front-of-the-house. There are plenty of places to go in Miami where one can enjoy a good meal without being first slathered in snobbery.

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      Joe's Stone Crab
      11 Washington Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33139

      South Beach Cafe
      121 5th St, Miami Beach, FL 33139

      22 Replies
      1. re: michelleats

        You got Stone Crab legs? Not claws? No wonder you didn't like them!

        1. re: southocean

          Ah, I see. Sorry about that mistake. Please sub in "claw" for every "leg" you see in the review. But yes, sadly the stone crab claws were waterlogged and tasteless.

          1. re: michelleats

            Sounds like you folks should have opted for Joe's Take Away.....You weren't properly dressed to dine at Joe's more formal side....You were probably paranoid about the way you were dressed.....I've been to Joe's at least 50 times in my life.....and probably more....and I have NEVER encountered what you've described here.......I've been to Joe's 3 times this season.....and each time was excellent.......I took a group of 12 customers there on one of the outings and they can't stop raving about it.......

            EMac
            Ft. Pierce, FL

            1. re: LargeLife

              I've eaten many hundreds, perhaps thousands of stone crab claws and lots of other crab product (Alaskan King Crab, Snow Crab, etc.) and in the process I have eaten frozen product, fresh product, not so fresh product, etc.

              It is absolutely clear to me that the stone crab I had at Joe's had been frozen. It had nothing to do with the beginning or end of the season (this was in early March) and there was, apparently, at least one good claw at out table, mixed in with the others.

              Those that don't know what to expect can be fooled easily, especially when dipping the crab in mustard sauce. Even I have enjoyed average shellfish when smothered in a good sauce.

              I can, however, easily tell the difference between fresh, properly prepared stone crab and stone crab that has been frozen or left to soak too long in unsalted water. The 6 stone crab claws that I tasted were all crap. I could see how they could pass muster for those with little or no knowledge of the fresh product, but since I eat the stuff weekly in season, often purchasing them at Whole Foods or Jake's in Boca, I know what they are supposed to be. Up until this visit, every stone crab claw that I ate at Joe's was good.

              If they are selling product that they purchased frozen, they should be cited.
              If they are freezing or otherwise storing the product too long and under the wrong conditions, resulting in this poor quality, they should be ashamed of themselves. They must be aware of what they are selling. They are charging fresh stone crab prices for poor quality product that should be half the price, if that.

              BTW, I ate frozen King Crab for years and was quite pleased with it, but when I started to get access to live King Crab cooked to order, I was spoiled for the frozen product. I do understand that many people can be 'satisfied' and even 'rave' over frozen product, but give them the best quality for a while and they won't want to go back.

              Joe's should be investigated.

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              Joe's Stone Crab
              11 Washington Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33139

              1. re: Buzzy2

                I was told years ago that Joe's often sells frozen crabs and has been doing so for a long time. I've never been a big fan, but I know that most people are. Their sides are good and we do take the occasional tourist there who has never been and insists on going.

                1. re: Buzzy2

                  You really sound like you know your crab, Buzzy2. Are there other places you (or anyone else) would recommend for it in/around Miami? Is Jake's in Boca Raton still reliable in your experience?

                  1. re: michelleats

                    Now that the season is ending, any comment that I might make is somewhat meaningless, but in season, I haven't had any bad crab at Jake's. I would also expect that you would get good crab at Legal Seafoods and at top steakhouses, but you don't get that 'please bury me in stone crab' experience.

                    When I buy cooked stone crab from a retail vendor, such as Whole Foods, the most important thing for me is to find out when it arrived and to try to buy it and eat it the same day. Waiting even one day to eat a cracked claw can result in sufficient deterioration that the flavor is off or, sometimes, even BAD.

                    Monty's in Miami was once very good also, but I have not been there for several years.

                    By the way, if not for the frozen-tasting crab at Joe's, I could have enjoyed most of the other food. Their menu is HUGE and they have many good selections. Maybe next time I'll bring my own stone crab claws and order everything else off their menu. LOL

                    1. re: Buzzy2

                      Good information -- thanks! I'm putting Jake's on my map of places to try. We'll be sure to go in season. I'll do some reading on Monty's, as well. I did notice that every other restaurant in South Beach seemed to include stone crab on the menu, but I suspect it might be a better idea to have them somewhere that specializes, since the turnover rate / quality might be higher.

                      If you happen to think of any, other than Whole Foods, specialty seafood market recs are welcome, too. We stay in a hotel "residence" that conveniently includes a full kitchen.

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                      South Beach Cafe
                      121 5th St, Miami Beach, FL 33139

          2. re: michelleats

            Joe's is neither an informal crab shack nor is it a place that's striving to be a Michelin 3-star like Le Bernardin, Per Se or EMP. It's closest in style to an old-school steakhouse, and the service is typically professional, efficient, and yes, perhaps brusque. It's not exactly a formal place and people will go in everything from jeans to suits & fancy dresses, but I'm actually somewhat surprised there isn't a "no shorts" policy. The maitre'd is not the most friendly guy (at least not to those who aren't recognized as regulars) but he also has perhaps one of the more difficult jobs in the restaurant business, dealing with every diner that comes through one of the busiest restaurants in the country (and which doesn't take reservations).

            The quality of the stone crabs, even at Joe's, can be a bit hit-or-miss particularly early or late in the season, when I do think they start squeezing in more pre-frozen claws.

            1. re: Frodnesor

              The primary issue, which I don't want to distract from, was that most of the stone crabs we tried just seemed to be of poor quality. I don't remember if I'd eaten stone crabs as an adult, before, prior to this meal, but I do eat other types crabs regularly, in many other parts of the world. I know the difference between a fresh, flavorful crab and a not-so-fresh, not-so-flavorful one. Perhaps it's luck of the draw this late in the season as you say, but during our visit, I found Joe's to be the latter.

              I do appreciate your honest assessment and the honest, clear-headed assessment of others.

              [For the record, I wasn't trying to imply that I thought Joe's was like, or ought to be like, Le Bernardin & co. My observation was that the manager & maitre d' were far more snobbish than any I've encountered even at 3-starred Michelin establishments. I certainly don't mind brusque. (I'm from NYC, after all.) I do mind how the manager and maitre d' eyed my husband from head to toe with a slight sneer on their faces. That isn't acceptable in a 3-starred Michelin restaurant. It is not something I care to accept at Joe's, a place I found to be rather less delicious. If we violate the dress code, by all means, turn us away. If we do not violate the dress code and are invited in to dine, we ought not be treated as though we were something horrifying.

              But all this is an aside, I don't want to distract from the issue I regard as central: the food. Let's just talk about that and not resort to hurling accusations about my paranoia, as Large Life does, above. I'm quite capable of separating out an analysis of the food and service in my own mind.]

              1. re: michelleats

                When you showed up to Joes, saw the valet parking, walked up the breezeway, thru the double doors, saw the beautiful bar and made your way to see the sharp-dressed maitre'd about a table - - - at what point did you figure out that you probably weren't properly attired for this type of establishment (even though they did seat you)?

                Talk about the food? OK. That was your experience. I'm sorry it didn't fulfill your expectations. It can and does happen at the finest establishments I'm sure. And PERHAPS this is what happened when you went to Joe's. Anything is possible I've learned. But the fact remains that I've been there dozens of times and have NEVER experienced ANYTHING that you've written about here. My three visits there this season (once with 12 guests) was nothing less than amazing.

                EMac
                Ft. Pierce, FL

                1. re: LargeLife

                  We eat at Joes quite often and have never experienced anything close to the description of your evening there.

                  We were there last week and had great stones, sweet and succulent. We think the stones are at their best when the water is warm, in October and May.

                  There was a time when shorts were not proper attire at Joes and many were turned away at each service, I being one at lunch in the 80's. When we are in NYC we are very aware of being dressed properly at restaurants, as we are in any city we visit.

                  The maitre'd is as sweet and personable as can be, and has a very difficult job handling regulars that want their tables "now" and the hundreds of tourists each evening.

                  Joes would not been in business this long if the stones were not of the highest quality, and if the help were snobby and aloof.

                  1. re: dlgc

                    "We think the stones are at their best when the water is warm, in October and May."

                    This is very interesting info. Is the crab better in Oct. and May, but scarcer?

                    1. re: michelleats

                      One thing worth noting, many people assume that stone crab claws are "Cooked" at the restaurant. Not so, if you ice down the claws raw, and cook them later the meat will stick to the shell and the product is inferior. Some of the bigger crab boats have a large pot on the boat. The procedure is pull the trap, select the claw to break off, throw the crab back to regrow the removed claw, boil the claw and THEN ice it down. Smaller boats with fewer traps will make a run, then sell the claws to a wholesaler and the buyer will boil the claws and ice them when properly cooked.

                      For really exceptional Stone Crab Claws go to "Moore's Stone Crab Restaurant on Longboat Key, They have their own boats/wholesale company.

                      The quantity harvested also depends on the Octopus the only predator of the crabs, more Octopus.....less crabs!!

                      1. re: ospreycove

                        That *is* very interesting. Two questions: Is "icing" more akin to refrigeration or freezing? And are crab claws boiled or steamed again at the restaurant or just allowed to warm (defrost?) to serving temp?

                        I would love to head to Moore's Stone Crab, though it looks like quite a drive from Miami. I think it's not too far from Bradenton, though, where college friends of ours live. Perhaps we'll have to plan our next visit to see them to fall strategically during stone crab season... :)

                        1. re: michelleats

                          Although I am waiting to see ospreycove's reply, I believe that 'icing' refers to being packed in ice, as a lot of fish is. it keeps the fish from spoiling during shipping when refrigeration is a more expensive option, as you know. The cold, cooked claws (sounds like Nightmare on Elm Street) are not cooked or heated again, just served.

                          BTW, this is a stage where the claws might possibly suffer from soaking in fresh water if the ice packing doesn't allow for draining and the claws are submerged for a long period of time. I'm just guessing.

                          1. re: Buzzy2

                            Buzzy2, Yes, when I refered to "icing" it is being iced down not frozen. On most smaller commercial boats, crabbers included they do not have the ability to freeze their catch, just quantities of ice. Good point Buzzy2 about the claws becoming water logged, I have to find out if all the cooler boxes have drains in them or are the claws allowed to sit in the melted ice water.
                            Some places offer hot or cold claws, hot claws are reheated from their cold "on ice" state. I prefer cold claws, personal preference.

                            1. re: ospreycove

                              I've heard it said that stone crab is typically served cold because when they're heated, iodine flavors can become very pronounced. Indeed, I'm pretty sure somewhere along the line I came across a story that Joe Weiss' big stroke of genius was to serve them cold. I've occasionally had stone crabs in warm preps - in a soup, in a crabcake - and not noticed it, but it may be more prevalent if they're served on their own.

                              1. re: Frodnesor

                                Frodnesor, I only like them cold and unadorned, except for a little mustard sauce!!!

                                1. re: ospreycove

                                  Thanks, all of you! I love nerding out on this kind of info. It really makes me look forward to next season.

                      2. re: michelleats

                        That is just our expierence.......not a fact.

                        1. re: dlgc

                          That's good enough a data point for me. Thanks for the opinion.

            2. I've just never seen the fascination with crab claws - Joes or anybody elses. I've had them several times. Each time I've been prepared to be impressed and have been disappointed. Basically I find them pretty tasteless.

              1 Reply
              1. re: porkpa

                When they are really good, well, they are REALLY good. By that I mean that they are sweet and the texture is not soft or stringy. Tasteless stone crab is a definite sign of poor preparation or poor handling.